Oahu nene sighting shows progress for endangered species

For the first time since the 1700s, a pair of the endangered Hawaiian geese are calling Oahu home. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the nene have nested and successfully hatched three goslings at the 1,100-acre James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge near Kahuku, Oahu.

“It’s very exciting to have them here and to have nested and to have raised goslings in an area where they haven’t been in so long is very historic,” said Annie Marshall, biologist and nene expert. “This is the first time that we have seen nene here since westerners started documenting the bird and native wildlife population.”

The nene were first observed on Oahu around January 9. “We saw them for about a month before they nested,” said Greg Smith, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “They were on and off at the refuge, and then we saw them hanging out here for a while and we saw them picking out a spot.”

The female nene originally laid four eggs in February and three hatched on March 13.

“This family was originally on Kauai,” Marshall said. “The male and female later moved with some goslings from Kauai. They were near the airport and that was considered a problem because people worried about plane strikes. They were moved from there and taken to Hawaii Island. We think that they were probably flying back to Kauai, but ended up stopping here and doing very well and so they stayed.”

Once the goslings are old enough to fly, researchers believe they will likely head back to Kauai.

The Hawaiian goose, or nene, was driven to near extinction in the early 1950s. Approximately 30 birds were left in the world, all on Hawaii Island.

However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says Hawaii’s state bird is on the comeback with statewide totals estimated between 2,450 and 2,550 birds on the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Molokai, Kauai and, now, Oahu. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also received recent reports that nene are moving to new areas on Hawaii and Maui, where they have not been seen previously.

Experts can’t say for sure why the birds disappeared on Oahu, but there are many factors that could have contributed to the dwindling numbers.

“The nene geese are impacted by mammal predators that were introduced to Hawaii for various reasons, such as feral dogs and cats, mongoose and rats,” said fish and wildlife biologist Aaron Nadig.

Experts say it’s possible more birds will arrive on Oahu in the future, particularly in places that provide safe and protected habitat like national wildlife refuges.

“We don’t plan to move any birds here,” Marshall said. “We believe that they will find there way here naturally.”

“Nene on Oahu is exciting progress for, and an expected part of, the recovery process for this endangered bird,” said Barry Stieglitz, Refuge Supervisor for the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “Historically, nene occurred on all or most of the major Hawaiian Islands before and during Polynesian colonization. We hope that one day, nene populations will once again occur on all the major Hawaiian Islands.”

Should you view a nene on Oahu or in a previously unseen area on the other Hawaiian Islands, report sightings to the Service at 808-792-9400.

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